02/07/2009, 00.00
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UN blocks sending of aid to Gaza, after Hamas confiscates food shipments

by Joshua Lapide
Hamas says it was a simple mistake. But the UN is asking for the restitution of whole truckloads of food, and guarantees that it will not happen again. 1.5 million people depend on this humanitarian aid.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The United Nations yesterday suspended the sending of aid to the Gaza Strip, after Hamas extremists took away hundreds of tons of food, for the second time this week.

Ahmed al-Kurd, minister for social affairs in the Hamas government, which controls the territory, denies that they wanted to confiscate the supplies, and says that it was "a misunderstanding" among some drivers, who did not know which cargo belonged to the UN and which to the Palestinian government.

But Christopher Gunnes, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides crucial aid to most of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza, charges that on February 5, the militants seized 10 vehicles full of rice and flour (more than 200 tons), and two days earlier took more than 3,500 blankets and 400 cases of food from the agency's distribution center in Gaza. He insists that the supplies must be returned, and "we have to be given by the Hamas government credible assurances that this will not happen again," otherwise - he concludes - "we will continue with the suspension of our imports." In any case, the agency has enough food and other supplies for the next few days.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also asked Hamas to give back the supplies, and to "refrain from interference with the provision and distribution of humanitarian assistance."

The UN wants the distribution of aid to involve officials of the Palestinian Authority, led by president Mahmoud Abbas of the group Fatah, which won the elections but lost control of the territory after a genuine battle between the two groups in 2007.

The inhabitants of Gaza depend entirely on aid from the UN and from other international agencies, in part because Israel does not permit the arrival of aid brought by groups that it considers hostile.

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